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Tuesday 3 August 2010

Travel. Retail.

Here at Caskstrength Towers, we’re a big believer in rewarding people and there is no finer example of this than the 'distillery only' bottling. A few weeks ago we took a look at 3 newly released offerings from Diageo, writing up tasting notes on the Blair Athol and the Oban which added to the Lagavulin we had during this years Feis Ile.

But what of other distilleries; nay other countries...

Now whisky is a truly worldwide product, with distilleries popping up all over the world, we decided to take a look at an example of these offerings from Japan, Ireland and (of course) Speyside.

We start in the Southern Hemisphere with a bottle from Japan.

One theme we took from our travels to this beautiful country was the wonderfully intricate packaging that many retailers indulge their customers with. Spectacularly boxed melons, or hand wrapped books really got our attention and it was no time until we were reaching for our wallets to obtain that unique piece of Japan. When it comes to whisky, clearly there are no exceptions. We came across some superb 'distillery only' bottlings at both Yamazaki and Hakushu. Both bottles were frosted with thin japanese paper to give an opaque finish. There was also little to give away what was inside, hence why everyone dubbed them the 'secret malts'. Now, If there's one way to get a writer excited....

Hakushu - Secret Malt - Distillery Only bottling - NAS -43%

Nose: Rich, very noticeably sherried and also slightly peated, with honeyed notes, soft earthy aromas, dried prunes and brown sugar. Similar to the 18yo, but the peated notes make for a very nice balance indeed.

Palate: Big hit of spicy christmas pudding, with cinnamon, mincemeat, cloves and more sherry, much more dominant on the nose.

Finish: The sherry lingers, developing into woody tones with a little burst of spearmint on the death.

Overall: This should be one of those whiskies that does what it says on the tin. But obviously... it doesn't say anything on the tin!! The sherrywood has had a big influence on the spirit and clearly this has some older bits and pieces mixed in, but there's no lingering bitter/dryness, just bags of well balanced fruit and spice. Brilliant all round.

Next stop on our great bottle hunt is Ireland, specifically Dublin and The Old Jameson Distillery. The bottle available here is one we have covered before in a flight of Jameson bottlings on a visit to the Irish capital a couple of years ago. However, this is a different batch (getting geeky, the bottling code for this one is 2009) so let’s see if anything has changed in the 18 months since we last tucked in to a bottle of this stuff:

Jameson – Distillery Reserve – 12 Years Old – Batch No. JQ-058548 – 40% Vol

This release has a mix of bourbon and sherry casks.

Nose: The honey roast ham from our previous notes is still there, but the hazelnuts have moved more in to the background and sandwiched between the two is a zest of orange squash. The longer it stays in the glass, the more this develops. It has a fresher feel than the previous bottling we tried.

Palate: The palate of this edition leans much more West than North East, with some rich vanilla bourbon notes backed by some of the coffee notes from the sherry casks. The lavender and heather are still there (possibly coming from the triple distillation) but this bottling seems to have a much woodier edge to it, which actually gives it more meatiness / robustness in the mouth. It’s like it’s spent a couple of months in the gym this time, bulking up a little.

Finish: Toffee and figs, but more spice and liquorice this time around. Not quite as smooth as remembered; in fact this finish is quite spiky and peppery. Long and lingering and warming.

Overall: This is still a cracker of a dram which has more in common with the rich oak elements of bourbon, than the light and grassy notes of many of its Cletic neighbours. The additional spice in this batch adds body but makes it a more challenging dram. Probably a good thing as the last bottle of this we had was too easy to drink!

Finally, we find ourselves back in the heartland of whisky, Speyside. Home to 46 distilleries and producing in excess of 160 million litres of alcohol a year, there is no shortage of distillery tours and shops where one can pick up a unique souvenir of your trip. A few months ago we were lucky enough to visit Glenfiddich and picked up a bottle from their distillery shop, a 15 year old bottled at cask strength. This comes from their famous solera vat where three different types of casks (sherry, bourbon and new oak) are married together. The uniqueness comes from the fact that the solera vat is never emptied, adding “extra complexity” to the overall experience, according to Glenfiddich. We did some rough notes on this when we visited the distillery back in April but this will form our first official tasting notes (which, as always, you’ll be able to find in the CaskStrength Warehouse come the end of the week).

Glenfiddich – 15 Year Old – Distillery Only Bottling – Bottled 16.4.2010 – Batch 10 – 58.3% Vol

Nose: The sherry notes take priority here with some soft brown spices (much like a cinnamon bun I had this morning) and backed by some wonderfully delicate vanilla. It’s a very honest nose that doesn’t have anything to hide, but lots to offer the longer you sit with it. Over time it develops down the road of old school men's aftershaves, evoking old leather and cardamom.

Palate: Neat, the palate hits you with some real dustiness of old books and second hand furniture shops but for something at nearly 60% it’s quite delicate yet warming. There is enough oak to give excellent body to the palate, without drying or cloying the other vanilla flavours. It’s clear from the palate that this hasn’t just come from one type of cask and this is very much to it’s strength, although it does make it difficult to pin down some of the more background flavours. With water, the bourbon casks come to life more with lemon zest and some grapefruit come out.

Finish: Neat, this has a long finish (as you would expect from the large engine that is the alcohol content) with more of the vanilla and soft spices from the nose. With water, the lemons from the palate turn in to lovely mandarin oranges and the additional sweetness carries on for an age.

Overall: Complex? Yes. This is a really well rounded whisky with some real body to it and excellent, wood spices. The overall effect is of a much older whisky than 15 years, without being too dry or too woody. It’s a real pleasure to try a Glenfiddich that’s been non-chill filtered and also at natural cask strength and it’s just a shame that you have to travel to Dufftown to pick this little gem up.

And thus or whistle-stop tour of the world ends here. Just don’t forget, when booking your visits to distilleries, leave a little pocket money for the shop-only bottles. You won’t regret it!